I’ve been trying to get to this post for a while. It reflects on some of things I’m seeing in YA literature and YA library practices particularly with regards to works by Indegenous/People of Color. Tomorrow, I’ll have a post from Dr. Angel Daniel Matos on trends in YA diversity research. You’ll want to be sure and read it.
The most striking thing I’m seeing in YA literature is the increase in the number of books published that were written by IPOC authors. In March 2016, I identified 14 MG & YA books by IPOC authors and 2 of them were debut. For next month, I’ve identified 30 IPOC authored books, 11 of which are debut authors. Many of the debut authors have careers as established writers as journalists, screenwriters or similar occupations, bringing a level of dedication and skill to their work.
30 is still not a lot of books (there are about 9 times as many White authors published in March), but it is double where we were 2 years ago. I didn’t pay attention to the size of the first print runs, but I have noticed that more IPOC authors are receiving multi-book contracts. And, these books are winning awards! Most recent, Jason Reynolds, Angie Thomas and Renee Watson were all named as finalists for the LA Times Book Award in the Young Adult category along with E. Lockhart and Dashka Slater.
In searching for titles this year, I’ve noticed it’s more difficult to find an age range assigned to books. Publisher’s pages list books as ‘young adult’, but that can be 12-18, 14-18 or some other deviation that incorporates the age range. This may make a difference to some school librarians making purchasing decisions and matters to award committees.
While the growing presence of IPOC authors (I don’t know about illustrators or those working in other capacities in publishing) indicates a disruption to the Whiteness of YA literature, “diversity” itself does not. These #ownvoices stories offer narratives that deviate from the standard fare that centers on Whiteness. This means the protagonist is not of European decent resulting in a variance of the style of storytelling as well as value structures, language, cultural dynamics and relationships. “Diversity” has essentially boiled down to a formula in white author YA fiction with a brown side kick (usually a Hispanic surnamed person with no access to their culture), one LGBT+ character and sometimes a person with a disability. The presence of these characters is usually the equivalent of “I have a Black best friend”. If one really has a best friend of another culture group, they don’t flaunt them simply for their race. And, having this friend would cause one to think about the venues they visit, the routes they travel and some of the flip remarks they may make. But, when this “Black best friend” is a token, as in these books, the White character never questions what White people can say or where they can go when they’re not with a Black person. They still are unaware of their privilege.
In this same vein, diversity lists are still being created and distributed that segregate IPOC books from white authored books.
Imprints focusing on POC are growing. Salaam Reads (2016), Christopher Myers’ Make Me a World (2016), Rick Riordan Presents (2016; Disney) initial releases were all by women of color. This year, Namrata Tripathi, former Associate Publisher and Editorial Director of Dial Books for Young Readers established (Kokila
Penguin Young Readers); Kwame Alexander’s Versify (HMH). Does this give IPOC authors more access to the market, or is it another type of segregation?
When you parse the numbers, there are still so many gaps to fill: so little speculative fiction from IPOC writers (except Asian Americans), so little romance or mystery and so few biographies for older readers. How about Latinx stories that aren’t focused on poverty or immigration? And how about stories that explore and celebrate IPOC with disabilities? As social justice becomes more of a buzz word, will books begin to explore issues of abuses of power, racial healing, sexuality, colonization, privacy, online security or public education?
I’m noticing more books by Black women writers this year! I’m not sure of the race or gender of their characters, but in past years, the numbers of books by Black women authors and/or books with black female protagonists has been slight. (14 in 2016) Perhaps with Nic Stone, Angie Thomas and Renee Watson winning major literary awards this year, we’ll see more Black females in YA.
It will be curious to see what happens to the works and careers of male authors that have been named for sexual harassment. Will male aggression dwindle from youth literature? How will sexual encounters be written? How will the recognition of the violent nature of our country affect youth literature? Will there be more books about school shootings? Fewer books about killing games? Random acts of violence? And, how will professionals in this industry behave in public? Will white women quit obsessing over Indigenous men or men of color? Even my old azz eyes can see the discomfort that they create. Will there be a dialog about any of this?
YA lit often feels like a microcosm of the world as we navigate real issues playing out in both our professional lives and in the literature we read, promote, review and research. These trends are as much about us as about the books. We’re a vibrant, ever changing community. Let’s see what else 2018 brings our way.